Real World Health Care Blog

Tag Archives: pharmacist

Five Ways to Manage the Costs of Your Medicine

While a main precept of the Affordable Care Act is to expand access to health care, in some cases that improved access means more patients are being treated with medications that come with a cost. As a pharmacist, I have to be an insurance sleuth, use common sense, and teach my patients the old-fashioned methods of negotiation.

Joel Zive

Joel Zive

I work in solid organ transplant, HIV, and Hepatitis C medicine. I have patients on regimes ranging from 4 to over 20 medications. For my patients, obtaining consistent, reasonably-priced medications – both over-the-counter and prescription – is vital.

1. Make sure all the medications are at one pharmacy.  It’s important to keep a clinical eye on things for drug interactions. As a bonus, the pharmacist and the patient know what costs need to be examined.

2. Seek out insurance prior authorization.  Some insurance companies require prior authorization to cover certain drugs. Your pharmacist can help you seek prior authorization for medications that require it using software that creates forms specific to each insurance company. Ask if your pharmacist can fill out the form as much as possible before sending it to your doctor.

3. Contact the drug company.  Many pharmaceutical companies offer patient assistance programs or co-pay assistance cards to help eligible patients obtain free medicines, particularly for biologics and expensive drugs. These programs are especially helpful for patients who have insurance gaps and need the medications quickly. Depending on the assistance from a case manager or care coordinator, I have received authorization for medications right away or within 72 hours.

4. Search for a co-pay assistance program that covers your condition.  If your drug company does not offer a patient assistance program or you are not eligible based on your income and insurance coverage, it is possible that a charitable patient assistance program through a non-profit organization such as the HealthWell Foundation may be able to help you.

5. Seek discounts for over-the-counter medications.  Over-the-counter medications can put a strain on the wallet. In many cases, purchasing over-the-counter medications is more expensive than prescription medications covered by insurance. Other items like vitamins, natural supplements, and enteral formulas (also known as ‘milks’) require the patient to do a little negotiating. If you tell the pharmacy or vitamin store you will be taking these items indefinitely, they may be inclined to discount. Also, be on the lookout for buy one get one deals (BOGOs). Finally, enteral formulas can be quite expensive, so if you get prescribed a specially formulated one, ask if you can take a more basic formulation instead. Remember to let your prescriber and pharmacist know which over-the-counter medications and supplements you are using.

In conclusion, while the path to affordable medications is not always easy, there are individuals, programs, and strategies that can help you meet your health care goals.

How do you manage your medications? Share your tips in the comments section.

Categories: General

Adherence Training Key to Improved Coordination of Care, Use of Specialty Drugs

I have been fortunate enough in my career to do humanitarian work in East Africa, and I have witnessed incredible health care service performed despite a paucity of resources. Conversely, one of the many health care tragedies in that part of the world is the downward therapeutic outcome spiral due to unattended simple maladies. An untreated toe could turn into a raging skin infection or worse. A simple break of a person’s leg improperly set could leave that person crippled for life.

Joel L. Zive

Joel L. Zive

In the United States, we have a different set of complex issues affecting our health care system. But there is a beacon of hope with some of the most vexing health care issues:  specialty drugs. Yes, they have annual costs that approach the length of phone numbers, but research and development costs must be taken into consideration.

Yet when one evaluates the pain and suffering these compounds alleviate – sometimes also saving money for our health care system in the areas of solid organ transplant rejection, HIV, Multiple Sclerosis and Cancer for example – real value emerges.

Despite their high expense, there are organizations, including the HealthWell Foundation, that help patients pay for access to these medications. And do not forget social workers, case managers and an army of master insurance billers in doctor’s offices and pharmacies across the country.

Yet these drugs carry with them a promise and a peril: A promise if their regimens, with high pill burden, are adhered to and the side-effects are understood. And a peril to the patient and unnecessary high cost to our health care system.

What person who deals in specialty drugs has not been brought to the brink of tears due to the frustration of non-adherence? Of a transplant patient who never told their pharmacist or transplant coordinator that he stopped taking their immunosuppressive medications and lost their transplanted organ? The efforts of the pharmacists, nurses, prescribers, surgeons, transplant coordinators, social workers that were wasted along with precious time and money are horrifying.

On the other hand, you have a patient newly transplanted or newly diagnosed with a complex disease. Frightened, scared — even angry — wondering whether they can afford medications to stave off dialysis or stay alive. In my career, I have seen first-hand examples of turnarounds in patients’ attitudes and quality of life due to these medications and adherence training:

  • A kidney transplant patient who was on dialysis for years who saw other patients go into dialysis walking, then in a wheelchair, then on a gurney before expiring.
  • Another patient at the dialysis center who announced one day, “I give up.” This individual had sufficient motivation but still needed guidance and assurance he would get his medications in a timely manner. Now, this person is rebuilding a life for himself and his family.
  • A woman tired, frail and scared lying in a hospital bed post-transplant wondering how she will live the rest of her life. With encouragement and adherence training she is now flying cross-country to see her relatives.
  • Another patient was diagnosed with relapsing remitting Multiple Sclerosis in the prime of his life. Yes, he had difficulty dealing with his insurance company and their specialty pharmacy.  But he had help and encouragement from an outside specialty pharmacy. And with patience and persistence from others he is now in graduate school.

What do these examples underscore? That although the United States enjoys an abundance of health care resources compared to Africa, what we’re missing is the coordination of care. Sometimes this is due to the health care system and sometimes this is because of the patient.

There are a couple of strategies providers can employ to improve this situation:

  • This scenario I saw first-hand in Rwanda.  If a pharmacist senses there is something not right mentally with the patient, he can contact a social worker in the clinic for further workup.
  • Another approach includes an agreement among the multidisciplinary team about what the adherence goals  should be. If the goals seem to be remiss, then the pharmacist could be notified, and he could handle the issue or direct it to the appropriate provider.

In both cases, there is feedback among the health care team. In the area of specialty drugs, adherence training can fill and highlight these gaps to the patient’s benefit.  As my colleagues in East Africa have told me, “We admire your health care system.”

We have many issues to be worked out and negotiated in the weeks, months and years ahead.  But let’s use adherence training to give my colleagues overseas something they can aspire toward and emulate.

What other strategies can providers employ to improve coordination of care? How can hospitals, government and health care industry stakeholders coordinate to become part of the solution when it comes to more effective adherence training?

Personal Connections with Pharmacists Drive Medication Adherence Outcomes

With nearly half of all patients in the US not taking their medications as prescribed, medication non-adherence remains a dangerous and expensive problem that costs the health care system $329 billion annually (Express Scripts Drug Trend Report), meaning more hospitalizations and visits to the emergency room (ER).

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

So what’s the good news? Effective, comprehensive solutions are emerging to reverse this trend by involving the pharmacist to improve medication adherence rates through a personal connection with patients.

Recent stories underscore how pharmacists are uniquely positioned to engage patients in conversations that help them understand why treatments are prescribed and why meds should be taken as directed.

A report released on June 25 by the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), for example, illustrates how interpersonal relationships between pharmacists and patients boost adherence. Authors of the report found that a patient’s sense of connectedness with one’s pharmacist or pharmacy staff was the survey’s “single strongest individual predictor of medication adherence.”

“Pharmacists can help patients and caregivers overcome barriers to effectively and consistently follow medication regimens,” NCPA CEO B. Douglas Hoey, RPh, MBA, said in a statement. “Indeed, independent community pharmacists in particular may be well-suited to boost patient adherence given their close connection with patients and their caregivers.”

According to the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), one effective method pharmacists can use to improve adherence is medication therapy management (MTM) services for patients taking more than one drug for multiple chronic medical conditions. In addition to therapy reviews, pharmacotherapy consults, anticoagulation management, immunizations, health and wellness programs and other clinical services, MTM involves the following elements:

  • Comprehensive medication review, including a personal medication report that lists all the medications the patient is taking.
  • Medication action plan.
  • Education and counseling or other resources to enhance understanding about using the medication and to improve adherence.
  • Coordination of care, including documenting MTM services, providing the documentation to other providers, and referring patients to other providers as needed.

Pharmacists can also leverage a variety of practical tips to help patients improve adherence that include:

  • Discussing the appropriateness of each medication and its impact on their multiple medical conditions.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness and safety of each medication.
  • Assessing whether some medications may be unnecessary and should be discontinued.
  • Discussing the need to change medications or doses if problems arise.

The implications of improved adherence will help lower the cost of treating chronic conditions, decrease hospitalizations, reduce ER visits and by extension lower the risk of treatment failures, serious adverse reactions and deaths too.

“Studies have repeatedly recorded the cost-saving effect of MTM,” said Kevin Schweers, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs, NCPA. “One Minnesota study found a 12:1 return-on-investment for MTM.  In North Carolina, Kerr Drug reports that MTM programs for seniors produced a 13:1 return. Improved adherence would likely help reduce hospitalizations as well. So many prescription drugs are intended to treat chronic conditions, such as heart disease, that can result in hospitalization. In addition, hospital re-admissions can result from the failure to stick to a prescribed medication regimen.”

Joel Zive, adjunct clinical faculty, University of Florida College of Pharmacy, underscored the need for patients to cultivate relationships with their pharmacists.

“While MTM services are quite important in helping adherence, getting to know your pharmacist’s name is helpful in establishing a relationship with your pharmacist,” he said. “Pharmacists are trained to pick up clinical clues from patients.  This is why if you are having unusual reactions medications, speaking to your pharmacist is an option.”

Although MTM services are an effective way to increase adherence, greater participation among patients and pharmacists is needed according to the APhA and the National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE).

In addition to leveraging tips and strategies to boost adherence, pharmacists can also draw on a number of resources for patients, referring them to the NCPIE wallet card and to a brochure made available by NCPIE and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), “Your Medicine: Be Smart. Be Safe.”

What else can pharmacists do to engage patients? How can stakeholders in health care, government, academia and the private sector collaborate to improve dialogue among pharmacists and patients around strategies that increase adherence?